Viviane Reding Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media Privacy highlighed the challenges ahead for the European Union related to the privacy rights of users of social networking web sites.
Ms Reding explained that the EU needs to ensure that personal data are protected against any unauthorised use and that users have the right to decide on the way their data are processed.
Facebook, MySpace or Twitter have become extremely popular, particularly among young people. However children are not always able to assess all risks associated with exposing personal data. "This led me to agree with key providers of social networking services on the "Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU". The providers agreed to ensure that profiles of users under the age of 18 should be private by default and not searchable. On 9 February, on the occasion of Safer Internet Day 2010, we will report on how these principles are being implemented in practice, " Ms Reding said.
The EU's Information Society Commissioner also discussed the privacy related to the RFID, the small chips that exchange information over radio waves. These chips may include sensitive personal data.
"I share the strong concerns received from citizens about the possible threat of wider use of RFID to their privacy. Therefore, the Commission took the initiative last year to adopt a Recommendation defining how data protection should be guaranteed for RFID applications. As a result the RFID industry committed itself to deliver a Privacy Impact Assessment on the use of these chips, "the Commissioner added.
Monitoring internet users' web browsing to better target them with advertisements also gives rise to privacy concerns. "Users are not always aware that they are being tracked whenever browsing the Internet. We have launched an infringement procedure in the so-called Phorm case, alerted by worried citizens of the UK. For me it is clear that without the prior informed consent of citizens their data cannot be used, " Ms Reding said.
Better protection of privacy was also one of the priorities of the Telecoms Reform. The amendments the Commission proposed to the ePrivacy Directive provide more transparency and give stronger control to citizens. The European Parliament and the Council supported and adopted these changes. Providers will now have to notify breaches of personal data without delay to both the competent authorities and the individuals concerned.
The European Commission is currently analysing the over 160 responses to the public consultation on the reform of the General Data Protection Directive. "I can tell you that most responses call for stronger and more consistent data protection legislation across the Union. We will carefully assess all responses and prepare a future proposal in line with the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, " Ms Reding said.
The EU Commissioner also refered to the the right to privacy and protection of personal data when performing simple operations like transferring money, booking a flight ticket or passing a security check at the airport. She talked about the
body scanners, which have "a considerable privacy-invasive potential."
"Their usefulness is still to be proven. Their impact on health has not yet been fully assessed. Therefore I cannot imagine this privacy-intrusive technique being imposed on us without full consideration of its impact.
"The same applies to large volumes of our financial data transferred to the U.S. I remain to be convinced that all these SWIFT transfers are necessary, proportionate and effective to fight terrorism. I will be looking into this very closely in the coming weeks."